Photo courtesy Caterpillar Inc.
Ex-Im assistance has helped suppliers like Caterpillar ink deals that would otherwise go to competitors.

Construction-equipment makers and other business groups are hoping that Congress will act soon to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s charter, a move that would enable the bank to resume approving new loans and other aid to spark overseas sales of U.S.-made goods and services.

Congress failed to reauthorize the bank by June 30, when its authorization lapsed, which meant that it had to stop issuing new loans.

The bank didn’t shut its doors or furlough any workers, however. An Ex-Im spokesman said that the bank is funded through Sept. 30 via congressional appropriations and will continue to manage its $112-billion portfolio of outstanding loans.

The stage is set for an attempt to reauthorize Ex-Im. Nick Yaksich, Association of Equipment Manufacturers vice president for government and industry relations, says, “We’re committed to fight for Ex-Im Bank.” He adds, “It’s a tool, and we don’t think it’s time to take that tool out of the tool box yet for manufacturing."

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), an Ex-Im backer, told reporters in a June 30 conference call that the authorization lapse put 195 loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance transactions valued at $9.1 billion on hold indefinitely.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), another Ex-Im advocate, noted that there are similar export-assistance agencies in about 60 other countries that support their own companies’ sales abroad.

Hoyer added that not extending the bank’s authorization, “We are undermining thousands of thousands of jobs.”

Kathryn Karol, a Caterpillar Inc. vice president, said in a statement that Ex-Im reauthorization is “a top priority” for the company.

Karol noted that Ex-Im assistance led to Caterpillar’s sale of 25 machines with a potential order of another 75—a sale that would otherwise have gone to a competitor.

Waters said she is hopeful that the authorization’s lapse “will be short-lived.” She added, “We have the votes and … will continue pressing the Republican leadership to take action.”

As lawmakers returned after their July 4 break, the legislative vehicle to extend Ex-Im’s charter, and its timing, weren't clear.

One business source says, “A lot of people have speculated a likely vehicle would be the highway bill”—an expected must-pass measure to keep highway and transit programs operating past July 31, when a current stopgap expires.

The source adds that if an Ex-Im reauthorization were attached to the highway legislation, “It offers members [of Congress] some more cover: ‘I voted for the highway bill—this was part of it.’ ”

There are staunch Ex-Im opponents in the House, including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who, in a June 25 statement, referred to the bank as “corporate welfare.”

But the business source says, “The votes [for Ex-Im] are there in the House. The opposition has been strong, but it is a minority opposition.”

One construction-related Ex-Im deal that was announced shortly before the cutoff was Acrow Corp. of America’s sale of 144 modular steel bridge components to Zambia’s Road Development Agency.

Under the transaction, announced on June 23, Ex-Im is providing a $73-million loan guarantee. The bank said that its assistance prompted the Zambian agency to choose Parsippany, N.J.-based Acrow’s product over those from competitors in Europe and China.